So This is Me

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It’s been a good week. A lot of work is complete, check boxes ticked. Four kids are happy and healthy. I’m spending the weekend with my Mom helping her “slow move” into her new lake house.
But not every week is this good.

I have a good idea of where I want this blog to go, of the adventures I am excited to share. I hope most of my posts will be positive, uplifting. Perhaps I will inspire others to try new recipes or DIY projects. Maybe I can offer my experience to a younger mother on her trying day. I would love to make meaningful, lasting connections in this space. I hope, soon, to inspire with photographs. But today is different. You see, it would be dishonest of me if I did not share this part of myself with you.

Yesterday I had an encouraging visit with a new therapist, and on the tail end of my good week this post truly comes to you from a place of hope. I live, and I choose my words deliberately here, with anxiety and panic disorder. I say “live” because I work very hard to make sure that this disorder does not stop me from truly living. I felt my first flash of this demon mere days after my first son was born. Okay, no big deal, I decided. What new mother doesn’t check the bassinet a few too many times before bed? What new mother doesn’t suddenly feel, too acutely, her own mortality? It seemed pretty normal and I accepted it. Over the years it waned, but it would return after each pregnancy stronger than before. Now, fourteen years after my first experience walking into the doctor’s office, wobbly kneed, tiny baby in arms, begging for reassurance, for the guarantee of safety he couldn’t provide, it has morphed into panic disorder with a touch of OCD.

I write this post today partly in the hope that someone out there will read it and feel less alone. The statistics tell us that one in ten people struggle with some form of anxiety disorder. On my bad days I find this impossible to believe. Are there other moms in the school pickup line fighting back panic, smiling despite desperate fear? Could the pretty and confident Whole Foods cashier, or the nurse attending to my sick child also be living with this?

There you have it. My life is beautiful and I experience so much joy. People tell me that I am “laid back”. You wouldn’t know it to meet me on the street, but I have raging, debilitating bouts of panic that can sometimes block out that joy.

I used to hide it. For years I excused myself from get togethers and I would often feign illness. I even turned down a free trip to Singapore. I was ashamed and embarrassed. I felt weak and I squelched it down, shut it up until finally I couldn’t anymore. When I eventually opened up and shared my story, asked for help, read, learned, and began the work of recovery I realized something important. Something I want to share with you especially if you are a fellow panic sufferer. If you have anxiety or panic disorder you are far from weak. You are brave. You may, in fact, be one of the bravest people you’ve ever met. You get up every day knowing you are likely to experience intense fear. It’s the kind of fear most people will only experience a handful of times. Perhaps in the moments before a car accident or in the midst of a heart attack. People liken the sensations to those you might experience were you being chased down by a bear. The fear may be sustained or repeated throughout your day. You do it anyway. You face it down and you push through. Maybe you can only make it as far as your own front yard, but still, you do it every day. Even the impossible ones.

Not everyone has been understanding. I have had doctors treat me with disdain when I have gone to them with my fears. As if I wished to waste their time. As if I haven’t  yearned every day to stop the the obsessive thoughts. As if it was within my power to slow my heart, dry my palms, still my mind. I know now that I looked to them for tools and knowledge that they didn’t possess. Anxiety is often misunderstood even by those we go to for help.

People though are mostly good. I believe this completely. They won’t always know how, but they want to help. When you are direct about what you need people will show up.

My family seem mostly bewildered, but they are compassionate. On good days (and there are many) we laugh about it all. My sister jokes about “The Great Panic Attack of 2012”. The kids were dressed beautifully. The girls wore sparkly tutus and fall sweaters with little fox hats and tights to match. The boys were smartly dressed, and I was dashing around preparing  the pies and cranberry sauce we would contribute to the Thanksgiving feast. Expectations were set, plans made. In my world this means a panic attack is all but inevitable.

This particular panic started with some pain in my left arm. Most people I imagine would barely have noticed it, but in a flash my mind latched on to a sliver of a thought, a tiny what if? And BOOM we were off. With adrenaline released my heart rate exploded to around 170 beats per minute, my entire body was soaked with sweat and with my pupils dilated the world seemed harsh and unreal. The air felt thick and breathing seemed difficult. I just couldn’t get a deep breath. I shook violently, my poor mind racing, trying in vain to identify the threat. Outside of me the world looked far away, dreamlike. The terrifying sensation of derealization was setting in. My stomach lurched as I endured waves of nausea. I fought to maintain balance, afraid I might pass out.

At the hospital I could barely tell them what was wrong. “I’m afraid I’m having a heart attack” I explained. They wanted specifics. As always, I was upfront about my panic disorder. They wanted to know how this felt different. I had no answers. This is the nature of panic. Nothing is wrong, but everything feels wrong.

Hours later, discharge papers in hand, I felt embarrassed, guilty until I learned that my kids enjoyed their hodge podge Thanksgiving immensely, and were cuddled together on my sister’s couch watching a movie. A plate of food was warmed for me and, while I knew it wasn’t over, with the adrenaline spent I found relief for a few hours.

It doesn’t always play out like this. The sensations vary enough to add more confusion, more doubt to the experience. A handful of times I have sought out medical help. Mostly though I am able to ride it out at home.

It’s been a long journey, and I have learned a great deal along the way. I have made steady progress on my own, but after a difficult experience last month I have decided to enlist the help of a therapist who specializes in anxiety and panic disorders. I had my first visit with her on Friday and I am excited! She employs the cognitive behavioral therapy method which is proven to significantly reduce or cure anxiety in the great majority of cases. Apparently my mind and body are going to duke this thing out once and for all. Wish me luck. I’ll keep you posted.

I highly recommend anything by Dr. Claire Weekes. If you are struggling her words will bring immediate clarity.

The DARE Method taught by Barry McDonough has also been immensely helpful.

Little Bear

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When you’re pregnant, to say you dream about your baby is an understatement. You practically live in your imagination. Who will he be? Who will he grow to be? You try to imagine what he will look like, wondering at the possibilities. I have looked upon the faces of my newborns with curiosity and surprise, wonder and delight, complete adoration. But with Little Bear there was recognition, a deep sense of belonging, like we had met before. I looked down into his little swollen face and I thought of course, of course this is what he looks like. There is one picture of this moment. The rest were taken hours later, when the visitors arrived and the mess was cleaned up. Unprepared, we had only one camera phone and we’d left the charger in the car. I treasure this photo, our introduction, Little Bear and me.

We toyed with the idea of putting him into preschool this time last year. He would be three. His siblings had all started preschool at this age, we reasoned, but we knew. “He’s not ready,” I said. They had all marched confidently into their new classrooms, eager, excited. I worried he’d be anxious, that we’d have issues with separation, that he may actually be the kid who wouldn’t stop crying. Anyways, he wasn’t potty trained. And then there was his speech. Maybe it was time to look into that. It wouldn’t do him any harm to stay home for another year.

I was right. We dealt with the separation anxiety gradually, pushing gently. We enrolled him in a preschool prep program for kids with developmental delays. We discovered he was a little behind with his gross motor skills as well as his speech and began taking him to therapy once a week. At first it was hard. I’d sit for hours in the waiting room when I could have left. He would never have known. But I’d said I would wait. And this kid knows, on the deepest level, that I won’t let him down. Every single day that responsibility terrifies me. I tell my husband ‘if anything ever happens to me, you tell him, you make sure he knows how much…’ and I can’t quite say it. He laughs, but promises he will.

We spent the year playing and working. There were hours upon hours of open gym time and art classes, park time and gymnastics. I set up our house to be more Montessori friendly and encouraged birthday and Christmas gifts that would help him catch up to his peers. I filled our house with physical therapy props, I stooped over behind him, physically placing his feet on the correct stairs in the grocery store, at Granny’s house. ‘Step here first buddy, then the other foot here”. I waited, I rephrased, I engaged, and soon the words came, and then the confidence. We don’t have it all quite right yet of course, but he is ready.

Granny bought him a little lunchbox with a hedgehog and a water bottle to match. I chose his new school clothes online and we tried them all on when the package arrived. Star pants and rocket ship t shirts. and pumpkin pajamas. Because its just never too early for fall guys, it’s just not. We packed his little shoe box, a few extra outfits in case of accidents, a hand towel, a napkin, and a little turtle napkin ring. He attended orientation with his big sister by his side, and he hugged his new teachers. Yes, he is ready.

I don’t know if he is my last, but he might be. I have had a child in diapers for the better part of fourteen years. I had my first child when I was still trying to figure out my own identity, and I became the best mother I could be when I fully embraced motherhood as that identity. The thing is, I love this. Like, really. I can’t imagine that there is anything that comes after this that can even touch it. People talk to me about this being my “time for me.” I buy books encouraging me to set goals for myself, but hold on a minute. Maybe I just want to sit here in this space, to feel it all slipping away, acknowledge the loss. I will hand him over to his new teachers tomorrow with a smile, a kiss and some encouraging words knowing I will get into my car and sob uncontrollably. And yes, I know it’s only preschool, but I’m not ready.

Rainy Days and Mondays

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One of my favorite things about our house is it’s steel roof. I woke up this morning to the sound of rain pounding down and the sweetness of baby boy breath on my cheek. Yes, he is still my baby.

I managed to sneak out, leaving the kids asleep with their dad and headed for the grocery store. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to wear my rainboots, so rare is a decent rain in Driftwood, Texas.

We filled the house all morning with the smells of cardamom, cinnamon, vanilla and toasted coconut. I took my first shot at making vegan “whipped cream”. Slowly the big kids emerged and we all enjoyed some vegan, gluten free rice pudding.

We are back now to the sound of power tools and the mess of quikrete and ceiling  paint. But this morning’s breakfast together was a lovely break from the chaos.

The forecast is for more rain and storms, so I think I may need to invite my sister over to share some of her gluten free baking skills with me. I have been a baker all of my adult life, but now that I am gluten free I am completely lost. Baking truly is a science, but now the rules have all changed!

The following is the recipe for our pudding, although rice pudding is one of those things you can make many ways and it will almost always be delicious. I used a combination of almond and coconut milk. I skimmed the cream off the coconut milk and chilled it before whipping it to use as a topping.

RECIPE

2 cups arborio rice

6-8 cups vegan milk of choice

1 cup sugar

1 tsp cardamom

2 cinnamon sticks

1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Pinch salt

Dollop of Earth Balance

First toast the rice a little in the pan with the Earth Balance. Add 1 cup of liquid and bring to a simmer. Add sugar, cardamom, cinnamon, salt, and vanilla. Continue to add liquid, about 1/4 cup at a time, stirring frequently until rice is cooked through. This process usually takes 45 mins or so. Finish by adding your favorite toppings. We like peaches, bananas, pistachios, toasted coconut and coconut cream. Sprinkle a little cinnamon on top for looks. Enjoy!

She needed a hero, so that’s what she became.


I have stared at this blank space more than a few times, wondering where to begin. Well I came across the above quote on instagram, and it finally prompted todays post.

My experience as a wife and mother is a little unusual. My husband spends more than half his time working away. I stay home with the littles, and not so littles. It has always been this way, and we mostly love it. We miss each other,yes, but when he’s home we travel, take on DIY projects together and just generally enjoy the joys and challenges of raising our family.

When I drop him at the airport, hugs are given, bags unloaded and many times,there are tears. There is a figurative and literal taking of the wheel. I move over to the driver’s seat, scooting my chair way too close to the steering wheel (so I’ve been told), then an internal shift. There is a flash of fear, it’s all on me, and acceptance. I feel like I become my own hero every time. I pull out of the drop off lane knowing I will cook every meal, read every story, wash every dish, kiss every boo boo. I will support my big kids in their daily struggles, deal with teacher conflicts and bullies, birthdays without Dad, first days of school. More than once I have had to call an ambulance, knowing my husband will be unreachable for many hours. I have sat petrified, awaiting the results of a CT scan or a spinal tap. Thankfully everyone has emerged relatively unscathed on these occasions, but I do give myself credit for the brave face and calm demeanor I have been able to muster in the face of pure terror.

I know, of course, that there are many single mothers and military wives who deal with this difficult reality and more. I have tremendous respect for them.

Our strange schedule will affect this space in that, when my guy is home we will typically be ripping out old gross bathroom tile, or laying pretty new floors. Although, often we will down tools and hit the road. Choosing instead to explore with our kids, lest we blink and discover we’ve missed the chance. When he is gone I will typically spend more time on personal goals be they health and fitness, creative, or starting this blog!

For now, happily, he is home! We are currently ripping out said gross bathroom tile with our “super helper”in tow. Updates soon to follow!

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Hello world!

Today this video moves me. I am awed by the power of human connection. I am also so very impressed with this organization and it’s mission. I feel newly inspired to finally reach out and share my life with all who wish to be part of it. For now I am just a person putting myself out there, but I can’t wait to see what grows in this space! I trust you. Do you trust me?